Reindeer Chocolate Pretzels {& a 50 miler}

My brother, Conor, and I used to spend our winter after school days lying on top of our respective heaters in the living room. We patiently waited for them to turn on and blow warm air on us, while listening and singing along to the latest Disney soundtrack. Those were the good days, when the biggest worry was how long the heater would stay on for, and how well we could memorize those song lyrics. Fast forward a few years, and we have both found our respective “after-school” activities that we love to do that keep our minds off the stresses of real life. I love to cook, bake, and make silly food art.

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Conor loves to run silly amounts of miles of in his spare time.

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And unsurprisingly enough, our passions have kept us going, however silly they may be, even in the toughest of times.

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My brother wrote down his experience of his first 50-mile run and it’s worthy of sharing, even on this little baking blog of mine. His recap does not make me desire to go running in the slightest, and probably won’t make you want to either with how grueling it sounds. But one thing that did make me jealous is the fact that when you run ridiculous amounts of miles, you can eat as many M&M’s as your heart desires.

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Without further ado, here is Conor’s story:

RACE RECAP: The North Face Endurance Challenge

I have been running for a long time. I could go on for pages on the reasons for my running and why I love it but that’s not what this is about. This is about one race and why I decided to do it. This past Saturday, December 6th, I ran 50 miles in the Marin Headlands and it hurt…a lot.

BACKGROUND: For the past few years, I had wanted to make the jump to ultra marathons. Most people thought I was crazy, which is partly true, but it was time for a new challenge. Even though I’d been thinking about it for a while, the timing just never seemed right. Finally, after crewing for my friend Katie at the Western States 100 Mile Endurance Run, I knew I was ready. In looking at the different options for a 50 miler it came down to 2 possible races; The American River 50 or The North Face EC. I had a little trouble deciding until I saw that the NFEC took place on December 6th. This date means much more to me than most, as it is not only my sister Caitlin’s birthday, but also the day that my mother, Becky, passed away from breast cancer. I knew right then and there that this was my race. I kept telling people that if I was going to be running 50 miles, I was going to need a little help from above. 

PACKET PICK UP: If you have ever participated in an organized race before, you know that you have to pick up your race packet the day before the event. The race packet includes your bib (racing) number along with a few other items like maps, advertisements and shirt with the sponsor’s logo on it. I went into the city with my friend Matt to pick up my packet, got some lunch and headed home. Seems pretty insignificant right? Normally, yes, this is just going through the motions but it wasn’t until later that night when my wife, Stephanie, asked what my bib number was. I pulled it out, and to my shock and excitement, I was bib number 126! Racing on 12-6 and wearing bib number 126, this was a great sign and made me so happy. I truly felt that this wasn’t a coincidence. I was MEANT to get that number.

RACE DAY: It all started at 2:45am. Steph and I got up to head to Marin. My dad, Mark, spent the night at our house so that he could watch the boys (thanks dad!). Although I would’ve loved to have the kiddos at the race, it just would’ve been too much on this day. The race started at 5:00am and I wanted to make sure I got there with a little time to spare. We picked up our friend Kerri on the way out of town and made it to Marin at 4:15AM. We arrived at the starting area and I realized that I hadn’t eaten much that morning. Thinking about it now, it seems ridiculous, but I was pretty nervous/excited so I guess I shouldn’t be surprised. Luckily, they had plenty of food available so I loaded up on bagels, Clif Bars, and bananas and made my way to the start area. I gave Steph a kiss (it’s possible that she was more nervous than me) and found a place to stand as I waited for the gun. From this point, someone talked about some stuff over the loudspeaker and maybe someone sang the national anthem?? Probably not, who knows. Gun goes off…

Mile 1: It was the most relaxed start to a race ever. Everyone just kind of moved through the starting balloon arch thing and slowly made their way forward. One great thing at the end of this mile was looking up into the trails and seeing 100’s of headlamps in front of me going up the hill, very cool.

Mile 14: After two 6 mile loops and a few more miles, I made my way to the first big aid station (there were 2 small ones before this.) This was the first time I got to stop for a second and say “Hi” to Steph and Kerri. This was also an opportunity for me to shed clothes as it was warming up. I grabbed a PB&J sandwich, some Skittles and refilled my water bottles. 3 min later I was running back on the trail feeling good (except for the Skittles…bad decision)

Miles 14-18: Beautiful, favorite part of the course. It was along the coast and when I wasn’t watching my feet, I was able to stare at the water. Awesome.

Mile 18: Saw my crew again, this time at Muir Beach aid station. They made fun of me as I sprinted to the bathroom. I got another PBJ and avoided the Skittles. Refilled my water and had some pretzels this time.

Miles 20-23: SUCKED. This was my first big test. I had to run up some switchbacks called Heather Cutoff. There was a stream running down the trail so I run/walked up it as best I could. Didn’t pass anyone but didn’t let anyone pass me either. 

Miles 24-28: SUCKED EVEN MORE: If I thought Heather Cutoff was bad, this was way worse. However, it was worse for a completely different reason. This was 4 miles of single track out and back. This meant that as I was running, the runners a few miles in front of me were heading back. I didn’t really mind the fact that they were all beating me; it was just a huge pain in the ass trying to dodge them as we squeezed by each other. Also, if one of us slipped, it would be down a giant hill.

Mile 33: FINALLY. I got to Stinson Beach and I was able to meet up with my pacer and great friend, Katie (I call her Murph.) She was waiting with Steph and Kerri. I filled up on electrolytes and M&M’s and took off. I think I might have had some Shot Bloks also.   I say “took off” but really that just means I started walking. The trail we were on was beautiful but it was straight up hill and full of steps…actual steps. The steps were there because that was the only way you could get up the trail; it was that steep. Even though this was tough, it was so nice to have someone just to talk to and keep me going.

Mile 35: Cardiac Aid Station. At this point, I had just done 2.5 miles of straight up hill. My legs were tired but what hurt the most was my stomach. Murph convinced me to have some soup, which tasted great. I had some more fluids and M&M’s and I kept going.

Miles 35-41: I felt great. Maybe it was the soup, maybe it was the encouragement from Murph but I started passing people and it awesome. I was running in complete slop with mud everywhere and I almost fell quite a few times but whatever. 

Mile 41: Muir Beach. Saw Steph and Kerri at the aid station, sitting in the back of Steph’s car cheering people on. They are so great, even if they didn’t know it at the time, it meant so much to me to hear them cheer so often. It felt like they were running it with me.

Miles 41-43: I HATE EVERYTHING: I said this. I actually said those words as I cursed my way through this grueling hill. This was without a doubt, the toughest part of the course. I had already run 41 miles and now I had to hike up this thing. I might’ve been at this point that Murph had to remind me why I was running. I was doing this for my sister and my mom. She said my mom would be so proud of me. I told her that my mom would actually be mad at me. She always worried about me, not it an overprotective bad way, but just in the way that I knew she cared and always wanted me to be all right. I miss her terribly, but on this day, she was with me. I made it to the top and spread my arms as I looked over San Francisco.   This is going to sound incredibly corny but I felt like I was about as close to my mom as I could be at that point.

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Mile 45: Tennessee Valley: This was it, the last big aid station. I came in knowing that the next time I saw Steph and Kerri, it would be at the finish line. I gave Steph a kiss and ate some food. 3 Miles of uphill and then 2 miles of downhill to finish this thing!

Mile 46-49.5: My enthusiasm was short lived as I headed up the hill. I was walking, but for some reason, I just couldn’t walk as fast as other people. I got passed by, I think, 4 people during this mile and I didn’t like it. Why couldn’t I walk any faster? Are my legs still attached? I was so close but couldn’t get it going.   This was when I made a decision. If it hurt this much to walk, and I was hurting anyway, I might as well just start running right? So that’s what I did. I wanted to be done with this thing. I wanted to kiss my wife at the finish line.   My wife, Steph, who has supported me so much from the beginning. Steph, who never bats an eye when I leave her with the 2 boys after her long day at work, and lets me get in a training run. Yes, I was running this for my mom and my sister but in the end, I couldn’t wait to see Steph and the end of this journey. I started crushing the uphill. I passed at least 10 runners going up and made it all the way to the top without stopping and from there, I just kept going. I got to the aid station at Mile 48 and I didn’t stop. I gave my water bottle to Murph and had her fill it up and grab some M&M’s. She caught me about a quarter mile later and from there she started pushing me even more, making me pass each person I saw. If someone got near us, she wasn’t going to let me get passed; this was the best I felt all day. Don’t get me wrong; my body felt like an absolute junk pile, but mentally, this was my moment.

Mile 50: I can see the Finish Line. This was it, after all these months, what was I going to do when I crossed the line? Well, I cried. I didn’t know what else to do.   I had set out to do something and I accomplished it. I got to see Steph (who was also crying.) I saw Kerri and Murph’s fiancée Matt (who had just run a marathon, and who was one of my best training partners.) I looked around and saw a bunch of happy people. I took in the moment and thought of my mom. I thought of my sister. I couldn’t wait to call my dad and tell him that I finished (I did get to talk to him later and I could hear his elation through the phone along with my grandma).

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After we took pics, we made our way to the car and I passed out. I got home and had a burger and a milk shake. I got to video chat with my in-laws, which was great. They were really excited for me and even though I was pretty out of it, I was really happy to talk to them.

It was a great day. It was the farthest I’d ever pushed myself and I can say that I am proud of the effort I put in. I love running and I love my family and friends. The only question now is when I will do my next one!

Just in case running isn’t your thing, but you are dying to make some silly reindeer chocolate pretzels, let me tell you how. 

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Place the pretzels on a baking sheet with a square of chocolate on top (or a Hershey’s kiss, but Switzerland doesn’t have them!). Bake for 1-2 minutes at 350 degrees F, 180C.  

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Cut the pretzels in half to use as the antlers. Place the antlers into the chocolate, along with some beady eyes and a M&M for a nose. And looky who we have here?

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I have no doubt these little guys would’ve helped Conor through his race. So the only question is, what shall I make next? 

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